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Jambalaya is a French word that means ‘jumbled’ or ‘mixed up’, and I have no doubt that the philosophy and heart of this recipe come from a similar place to paella, kedgeree and risotto.
Originally, any Louisiana ‘critter’ unlucky enough to get caught would have gone into this: rabbit, duck, squirrel, frog, alligator. . . you name it! And similarly, you can adapt it to whatever your local butcher or fishmonger happens to have. Go cheaper by using things like frozen prawns and chicken livers, or more expensive by including lobster or crab. I used an incredible local smoked sausage called andouille, but fresh chorizo or any other smoked sausage would work just as well.
This dish makes me happy every time I eat it. And if more people than expected turn up for dinner just add a bit of extra rice.
Season the chicken with sea salt, black pepper and a pinch of cayenne. Pour a couple of lugs of oil into a large casserole type pan and brown the chicken pieces and sliced sausage over a medium heat. After 5 minutes, once nicely browned on all sides, add your onion, peppers and celery as well as your bay, thyme and a pinch of salt and pepper. Stir, then fry on a medium heat for 10 to 12 minutes stirring every now and again. It’s important to control the heat of the pan: you don’t want it to be so slow nothing’s happening, or so fast that things are catching and burning. You want a steady, solid heat.
Once the veg have softened, add your garlic and chillies, stir around for a minute, then stir in the tinned tomatoes and chicken stock.
Bring everything to the boil, then turn the heat down, pop the lid on the pan and simmer for 25 to 30 minutes. When you can pull the meat off the bone and shred it easily the chicken’s ready. Feel free to remove the chicken bones at this point if you like, then add your rice. Give it all a good stir, then put the lid on. Give it a stir every few minutes, scraping the goodness off the bottom of the pan as you go. Let it cook for about 15 to 20 minutes until the rice is perfectly cooked. Stir in the prawns and if it needs it, add enough water to make it a kind of porridgey consistency (look at the picture). Pop the lid back on and cook for another 3 to 4 minutes while you chop your parsley. Stir the parsley through and serve on a lovely big platter. I absolutely love this with a lemony green salad.